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The Boats

Dreamed March 2001 by SAO (Shawn Allen O'Neal)


I had this dream while I was house-sitting alone for some friends in their large and very old house. I had to go in the basement at one point during my stay and became instantly aware that the basement was really creepy and I certainly didn't wish to linger there, but didn't think much more about it. It was late afternoon when I fell asleep, upstairs, on the couch.


It was very dark in the house and I was going toward the basement and I didn't know why, but I knew there was something happening down there; I could feel there was some kind of activity--people. I also sensed that an eerie sort of glow was emanating from below the house, though I couldn't actually see it. I hesitated at the top of the stairs and listened. I could hear voices but not what was being said, yet the tone seemed friendly enough like it might be a poker game or a small party of some sort--occasional yelling and laughter.

I walked down and encountered a smooth, round, white tunnel, just big enough to walk in, which curved and descended gradually toward levels unknown below the basement. Now I could hear splashing, and the voices were getting clearer. One particular male voice stood out, deep and strangely more resonant than the others, almost like the voice of a giant.

I finally came to a low opening in the tunnel which revealed another similar tunnel descending even further and about half full of swiftly rushing water. I don't remember how I got in the water, but the rushing sound and the feel of it and even the intense chlorine-like smell of it was very inviting and I found myself up to the neck in it being wooshed along through the winding hills and valleys of the long tunnel.

I shortly came to a larger chamber, a lagoon-like area fed by many such tunnels and here I first saw the boats. They were clustered together and seemed to be preparing for another 'run' through a 'sluice.' Before I could realize what was happening I was back in a tunnel, this time surrounded by a cluster of eight or nine of the boats.

The boats were made of some solid, thick, lightweight substance and painted white. They reminded me of the floating 'cars' one might see in a carnival ride, like 'The Tunnel of Love.' More or less appropriate to this association, each boat had a human head, larger than life, protruding from the stern and some had slight 'carnivalesque' decoration around the head. These heads were very much alive, talking, laughing, yelling--even though they were obviously made of the same painted material as the boat itself. They were a very curious mix of cartoonish caricature and very real, animal, beings. Painting of a dream image by SAO (Shawn Allen O'Neal): sentient boats with human faces on their sterns.

The boats could swing the weight of their heads around and most of them were strenuously engaged in such activity, crashing into each other and against the walls in the turbulent water. One of the boats--the one with the low booming voice, was a perpetually angry, older, bald man and was 'head butting' and even biting the other boats, and several of the other male boats seemed to be nearly equally rambunctious or at least delighted by the activity.

Other boats were taking the situation in a more leisurely fashion, having conversations and just 'going with the flow.' Some of these boats would engage the more violent boats in battles as they passed in and out of the cluster and others would just roll their eyes and allow themselves to be pushed around. They talked about each other amongst themselves in pairs and groups throughout all this activity, all seemingly as normal as could be incuding the outrageous turbulence of the sluice.

It was like a round of 'bumper cars' with me floating, head only above the water in the midst of them and clinging now to this one and now to that one, a very chaotic and exhausting enterprise.

The boats obviously knew I was there among them, but none spoke directly to me. At one point I clung to a boat with the head of a very tired and sad looking older woman and she looked down at me with great compassion but could offer me no real help. It occured to me to try to get into one of the boats but the water was too turbulent and couldn't get any purchase. Several of the boats thought this was funny and they talked about me in a condescending tone, but they all seemed rather determined not to take too much notice of me. I felt a little like a small wild creature who had inadvertantly stumbled into their game and was incapable of comprehending it.

This all went on for what seemed like a very long time. I couldn't really recall any of the exact conversations that had taken place among the boats, but I came away with a profound sense of a number of their personalities. They very eerily seemed to be actual people, so much so that at some point I began to wonder at their origins and found myself thinking of the words "boat" and "ghost" as nearly interchangeable. It was very clear that it was their inevitable lot to be 'trapped' here, together, perhaps for eternity, a strange and chaotic family.


When I woke up I was beset by a very macabre feeling. The presences of these beings were still very palpable and I had difficulty remaining in the house. I had a walk around the neighborhood and sat on the veranda for the remainder of the night.

This dream turned out to be possibly precognitive on two completely different levels.

When my friends returned home I told them about my dream. They knew quite a lot about the history of the house and its previous occupants and some of the personalities and appearances of some of the boats as I described them seemed to correspond remarkably vividly to a number of these people--especially the angry bald man who had passed on a few years previous. After this conversation I began to feel even more, rather uncomfortably, that I had been at a virtual convention of past occupants of the house.

Then, about a week later, some of my friends online told me to check out a "virtual chat program." I downloaded this program (called "Online Traveller") and a group of us explored it on and off for a few months and had great fun with it. This program gives each user a three-dimensional customizable graphic 'avatar'--a floating head--which moves around as you direct it with the keyboard's arrow keys through the virtual space of the program's many different 'rooms.' The rooms can be anything--forests, castles, deserts--and the users float around and can see and meet each other's avatars, talking through a microphone which even causes the lips of the user's avatar to move.

On the evening of my first experience with this program, my friends took me to a virtual space that was a model of a tropical island. Far out over the virtual water in the virtual harbor of this virtual island was anchored a virtual white, empty sailboat, rocking on the gentle virtual waves which you could hear virtually splashing and gurgling against its three-dimensional form. I met another user there with a solid white faced and serene looking avatar who happened to be one of the technicians of the program and we had a conversation for several hours just floating there above the water. At some point I realized that I was talking to a disembodied white head which was floating with the stern of the white sailboat directly behind it.

The unforeseeable visual resemblance of this situation to my dream of a few days before was unmistakable.

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